The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday May 26th

Carolina Population Center funded $48 million for research

With nearly $50 million in research funding, the Carolina Population Center established itself at the end of the 2010 fiscal year as a leading research entity at the University.

The center, which completes interdisciplinary demographic studies, received $47.7 million in grants and contracts, marking the second-most of any individual recipient at UNC this year, behind the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Despite the looming economic uncertainty with the end of the federal stimulus, Tom Heath, associate director for finance and administration, said he anticipates the steady funding growth from research grants to continue.

“The current economic climate at the federal level and increased concern about deficits to some extent has made it tougher,” Heath said. “Some stimulus money has been channeled into grants and that has helped us.”

Kathleen Mullan Harris, interim director of the center, said it has been able to receive funding due to the nature of its research.

The center is working on more than 50 projects, most of which are used by federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation — two agencies which are among the University’s top research backers.

More than 250 researchers from nearly two dozen fields — ranging from economics and sociology to epidemiology — collaborate on projects with the center’s support, making a interdisciplinary research climate that requires significant funding to adequately collect and analyze data.

“When you study population behavior and change, you need expertise to understand that coming from many different disciplines,” Harris said.

The research’s scale ranges from local to global, with projects addressing adolescent health and development and the role of genetics in weight gain. Global projects have targeted population migration patterns.

Funds from the grants go to hire experts and pay the salaries of researchers and collaborators, said Carolyn Tucker Halpern, associate professor in the Maternal and Child Health department.

The center’s operational costs are funded by a grant from the National Institute of Child and Health Development, Harris said.

Halpern also serves as deputy director of Add Health, a study that has followed 20,000 people nationwide from their adolescent years to the present, focusing on environmental and biological effects on health.

“We’ve got a national sample,” Harris said. “All across the nation we have to go find them … You can’t do that type of study without money from a funding agency.”

Harris said she hopes to continue her studies, and Heath said he thinks there is no reason to believe funding will not be available.

“The population center has been able to continue at a high level of grant receipts every year, and we’re optimistic it will continue,” he said.

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